Molds, pollens and other environmental triggers often cause asthma and related breathing difficulties in people. Canines aren't immune from exposure to these same allergens. Allergic airway disease in dogs usually manifests itself in the form of asthma or bronchitis, which can progress to pneumonia. The allergic reaction causes narrowing of your dog's airway. Although any canine can develop allergic airway disease, senior small-breed dogs are most affected.
Dogs suffering from allergic airway disease display various breathing problems. An affected dog might cough, gag, wheeze and lack energy. He might exhibit less stamina and tolerance for exercise. If your dog is seriously ill, the mucous membranes in his mouth and elsewhere can take on a bluish tinge.
If your dog's symptoms come and go, varying with seasonal pollen or mold counts, that's a sign he's suffering from an allergic reaction to certain substances.
To diagnose the cause of your dog's breathing difficulties, your veterinarian conducts a series of tests. These include a complete blood count, blood chemistry and urinalysis, along with a chest X-ray. Your vet will also test for heartworms, even if your dog is current on his medication. These parasites can cause symptoms resembling allergic airway disease. Your vet will require a fecal sample to test for the presence of lungworms. She might perform skin and blood tests to narrow down the cause of the allergic reaction.
For short-term treatment, your vet will probably prescribe steroids for symptom relief. Your dog might also receive bronchodilators, medications that relax and widen his bronchial tract. If your dog suffers from heartworm infestation, he will require a series of injections to kill the worms. While the worms die off, your dog must stay confined and quiet for approximately one month.
Depending on what triggers the reaction, management might consist primarily of avoiding certain allergens. Keeping your dog indoors during pollen season in a room with an electronic air cleaner can help. If inhaling cigarette smoke starts your dog wheezing, he must stay in a smoke-free environment. If avoidance alone doesn't severely reduce symptoms, your vet might recommend inhalation therapy. This involves the use of a metered inhaler that delivers medication into your dog's lungs. While it doesn't differ that much from an asthma inhaler designed for people, it includes a face mask to ensure your pooch gets his medication.
- Intown Veterinary Group: Asthma and Bronchitis
- Veterinary Times: The Management of Suspected Allergic Airway Disease in Dogs
- Merck Manual for Pet Health: Allergic Pneumonitis in Dogs
- Western Veterinary Conference: Eosinophilic Pulmonary Disease
- Truedell Medical International: AeroDawg* Canine Aerosol Chamber
- George Doyle & Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte/Getty Images